The streets of Siem Reap were brought to life this weekend as artists gathered to celebrate Angkor International Festival of the Arts for the first time in almost two years due to the pandemic.
The three-day event brought a string of activities to the town, including kite flying, food competitions, traditional music performances, performances of ancient Khmer martial art bokator, reading competitions, street arts, poetry, fiction, and art exhibitions.
Hab Touch, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the festival was held under the theme of Siem Reap as Asean Cultural City 2020-2022 as the country chairs the bloc next year.
“Organizing the cultural event today is very significant in the context that the whole world continues to face the spread of Covid 19,” Hab Touch said at Sunday’s closing ceremony, according to a copy of his speech.
The Writers and Readers Festival featured a series of renowned writers, including royal biographer Julio Jeldres and Lonely Planet's Nick Ray.
“My general comments on the festival, judging by the remarks I have been receiving, it has been a tremendous success, engaging audiences across a wide range of events and activities never seen before in Siem Reap in one festival experience,” said Aaron Carpene, Festival Director.
Carpene said the true interest of the story is the rapid exit from the serious crisis of the pandemic in Cambodia. This is due to the effective vaccination program and impressive speed of the completion of the roadworks – in some cases the paving was done a few hours before the opening of the festival venue on Street 26.
Businesses were also celebrating the return of visitors after being dealt a serious blow when international borders were closed in March 2020.
Joan Lejamble, owner of Maison 557 hotel, said business has been “very very hard” during the last two years. However, with the country now open to vaccinated visitors, hopes are high that 2022 will bring improvements.
“We’ve received bookings for January from people living abroad and now we have guests who live in Phnom Penh,” the 28-year-old said. “We need tourists that spend money on locals. When things get better, we need to host events like concerts and festivals. Angkor Wat is a fabulous attraction by itself, but we need people to stay longer than three days. To do so, we need more activities.”
Carpene said the festival was possible due to a private-public collaboration between Cambodian Arts and Festival Enterprise and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the Siem Reap Provincial Administration and APSARA Authorities.